[Interview] Rural Church Preacher: The Urban Church Should Walk out of "Ivory Tower"

Dalu Village
Dalu Village (photo: Gospel Times)
By Martin Wang January 24th, 2017

Editor's note: CCD published a translated article named "Exclusive Interview: How a Rural Church Finds its Way out of Desolation". Brother Huang Mingbiao, a local preacher in rural Guangxi, talked about how rural churches find ways out of their dilemma and appealed to church co-workers of the new generation to maintain the fire of the gospel in the countryside. In this interview held by the Gospel Times, Huang puts forward his views and suggestions on Chinese urban churches.

Gospel Times: In the last interview you shared your thoughts on the rural church development. Before serving in a rural church, you served in an urban church. Is there any inspiration?

Brother Huang: To be honest, I didn't serve in any urban church. I just stayed in three or four urban churches for I looked for jobs in the past. But I do stayed in the urban church for a long time. In the former days, as a layman, I didn't engage in church management. But I knew something after long-time observation, such as the characters, image, attitude and visions of urban churches. A church leader decides what a church is like. The urban churches I contacted are generally like ivory towers.

Gospel Times: Why do you consider urban churches as ivory towers?

Brother Huang: Maybe my view is one-sided, but I did see this phenomenon. 

During the period in urban churches, I remembered that the church life consisted of three main parts: Sunday worship, devotional meetings and member visitation ministry. However, they didn't do well enough in the other four ministries (Breaking bread daily, the Holy Spirit, Evangelism and wonders performing) in the Apostolic Age and even did nothing at all. 

Many churches held a communion service monthly and some even bimonthly, let alone daily bread-breaking meetings. The four ministries are an organic chain in which if one part goes wrong, the rest will be affected. As a result, the movement of the gospel will be hindered. Certainly, some may claim that God is in charge, who has his own plan and his kingdom cannot be stopped by people. It makes sense, yet ignoring a critical premise that his plan for the earth shall be practiced by people. If people do nothing, ministries must be held up for a certain period.

Therefore, churches can't really fish for people if they ignore the service model of the Apostolic Age. Feeling good in the three ministries, they repeat such work inside the church and refuse to walk into the crowd and care society. This kind of church is like a university, teaching the same group of people without noticing the change of the outside world. People often compare a university to ivory towers for the students there neglect the ugly and miserable phenomena in the real world, narcissistic in the ideal environment and isolated from the real life. A large percentage of urban churches today feel good inside top-grade buildings and thousands of believers with a regular religious life. 

Gospel Times: The church model in the Apostolic Age is hardly seen today. But pastors appeal that the church can only revive as long as it goes back to the development model at that time. Do you think it realistic for the church today constrained by the law and much affected by the secular power to return to that model?

Brother Huang: Legal forces and secularity should impact every age. The quality of the gospel is, of course, affected by those factors.  There was such effect in the Apostolic Age, otherwise, the apostles wouldn't be persecuted.

Recalling the world history, we find an amazing phenomenon that the greater persecution things suffer from, faster and stronger they grow. So we should shout for joy rather than lose heart for the church under harsh conditions. It will demonstrate that we're declining if the overall situation of the church remains quiet. That quietness results from an open policy and that we hide in ivory towers.

The Chinese church grew rapidly, in the 1980s and 1990s when the Regulations on Religious Affairs was not issued. The urban church who has a high population of believers doesn't contribute a major part to its member growth. The majority of its large congregation are many who used to be farmers in the country, hearing the gospel during that period. They migrated to cities and became city dwellers in the recent one decade.

From the standpoint, the urban church should reflect on itself. Although the Chinese church centers around cities like China's economy with laying stress on cities and ignore the country, and puts lots of manpower, material and financial resources into urban church construction, it should never forget its root in the rural area. After all, more than half of the believers in the urban church come from the countryside.

The urban church can only flourish until rural church, its root, is nourished. Now many urban churches are the "mother-in-law" of rural churches in the eighties and nineties of the 20th century while the "daughter's parent's home" may have few people after 20 years. What should the urban church do then? So after decades, the situation will be worrying like today's rural church if urban church remains as an ivory tower.

Gospel Times: A large rural population surges into cities under Chinese urbanization, creating a number of empty villages. Some cities are in a debilitating state of population overload, causing rural churches to lose their original vitality, while many urban churches rejuvenate, which is the fruit of the objective environment. But the wave may fade away in the future, influenced by this problem generated by urbanization. There will be a return that urban population returns to the countryside, like the path other developed countries trod.

Brother Huang: Urbanization is at the cost of sacrificing villages. If you carve a large portion of a cake to one, it means that another gets a small piece. So do the economy and the church.

Before this Christmas, I attended a dedication ceremony of a new urban church, in which many officials and other churches joined. The magnificence and high level leave the dedication of rural churches far behind. The finance billboard shows abundant donations. However, I found that most of its congregation spoke in a countryside accent. But if a rural church wants to construct a church, you can imagine the difficulty: few people respond to and support the plan. What's more, the proposal is overlooked by the superior.

This is the difference between urban and rural areas, formed in the minds of people who follow the concept of the time. It is not related to God because I believe God loves everyone equally. People believe that they should increase input and proportion into urban churches with many people while it's necessary to invest energy and money into rural churches with few believers.

It seems correct, but is regarded as a serious mistake from the perspective of "shepherding ratio". Take a church of my county with around 500 believers for example. The church owns eight pastoral staff, consisting of two pastors and six preachers. Then a shepherd nurtures about 60 believers. But the rural church has some gatherings with about 200 members and only one full-time preacher and others with dozens of members without preachers. Figure out the shepherding ratio in these gatherings, then it is clear that the nurturing ratio is much lower in urban churches than that in rural churches.

This fact demonstrates that the problem of the church construction lies in -- villages thinning out while cities growing fat. It's not because urban churches have numerous people but because people ignore the scarcity and need of rural churches.

Gospel Times: The urban church focuses on how to combat the nurturing pressure from urbanization.  In addition, how do you think the urban church should help the rural church?

Brother Huang: To break the impasse, the urban church should walk out of the ivory tower, abandoning the picky concept and caring the need of the rural church and society. To achieve this, we can learn from two figures: Rev. Samuel Pollard and Mother Teresa.

Rev. Samuel Pollard was an example of how to construct rural churches and Teresa was an angel of serving cities. With good family backgrounds and good manners, they could have lived a decent religious life like many urban pastors today. But they didn't, instead, they obeyed God's calling and served in foreign countries, working for God's kingdom.

Look at the urban church. We still sing hymns in ivory towers, busy with religious affairs irrelevant to society with the ignorance of God's calling.  When I stayed in the urban church, I was aware that God chose these pastors to do his work in cities. But I saw that some pastors failed to meet the requirement of self-cultivation and theology by the urban church.

Though some of them received formal theological training, they whose structure of knowledge and competence still remain the same as in villages, hardly do something in urban churches. If they can serve in rural churches, the results will be different for the the rural church has a simpler shepherding system than that the urban church and carries out work more easily.

Gospel Times: In this way, the urban church will face more pressure in nurturing. What should they do? Besides, preachers will consider whether the rural church can support their life or not.

Brother Huang: There's no need for the urban church to go one way because they don't have enough preachers (actually there is no lack of workers). They should send some preachers suitable to work in rural churches to go back to villages and let them learn independence. Regarding their living conditions, they don't need to worry about that. Because Jesus said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Many urban churches do a good job in the nurturing work of putting the church as the center to develop subordinate gatherings. Other urban churches should follow this pattern so that the rural church won't be too desolate. An urban church can't develop well without the support of the rural church. If we don't express gratitude and give back (to them), God will demand the payment of the debt from us. This is learned from Rev. Pollard.

Gospel Times: What should the urban church learn from Mother Teresa in your eyes?

Brother Huang: A large percentage of the urban church resembles a  canary singing joyfully inside the ivory tower, unable to hear the crying of the world. In cities with material wealth, many people are addicted to drugs, desperation and suffer from poverty, diseases and broken families. The urban church should open its eyes to see this reality and establish related fellowships to serve the poor and the needy. All in all, it should walk out of the tower and preach the truth.

In the Bible, Jesus seldom declared, "You come" but often said, "Go", stressing "going into all the world and preach the good news to all creation". (Mark 16:15) But the urban church is still doing the nurturing work, claiming, "Come and listen to my sermon".If an urban church only knows "coming" and overlooks "going", it will come to a day when it has few people even though there are numerous members at present.

Gospel Times: Will you stay in the rural church all the time?

Brother Huang: Yes. I hope that I can grow older in the rural church, lending a hand to the elderly in the village with my sincere smiles and responsibility. Maybe someday I will embrace a harvest of lost souls. May my church never become another ivory tower during my lifetime. 

Translated by Karen Luo

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